Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Nobody Died, Nobody Got Pregnant

How honest should one be on social networking sites?
It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about during the past 24 hours after I posted a comment about my feelings of failure in life. A friend said that it is never a good idea to expose oneself in this way and, I know, he is not alone in thinking this. I have friends who don’t even have a Facebook or Twitter account, which, to be honest, I find WEIRD! 
But, the truth is, the responses I have had from people is the only thing that is getting me through a very tough period in my life. And it’s not the first time that people on social networking sites (many of whom I have never met in person) have done that for me. My wonderful mum is there among the comments, too (nobody understands you like a mother. Truly. NOBODY), and my brother Nigel and dearest friend Leisha were first on the phone when I texted them about the latest disaster. The outpouring of love has been truly overwhelming, and my tears of frustration and anger have turned to ones of gratitude for the people I have in my life who love me for who I am. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to every single one of you.
Here’s the thing. And I really have given this a lot of thought before sharing it. I am losing my house. There. At the end of the day, it’s only 16 letters of the alphabet. But I’ve said it now. And I’ve decided to share that piece of information because people have been worried and, without saying why I am so distressed, they are thinking the worst. But, at the end of the day, nobody died, nobody got pregnant. Sorry if I alarmed any of you on either front.
Financially, it’s been a struggle for some time. Losing a job, pay cuts, the recession – I know I’m not alone in having a hard time; most people I know are, in varying degrees, suffering. The house is already on the market, but the stupid bank (I SO hate you, Barclays) can’t wait for a sale or hang on for five months when, with the new pension laws, everything can be sorted. I chatted to a very lovely person for half an hour, but, at the end of the day, it really was a case of, in the words of Little Britain, CSN, “Computer Says No”.
So, I am returning to the UK to clear my house and handing over the keys to CSN. I have spent the past day venting my fury, screaming What’s it all about? What have I worked so hard for all my life? and several other things that I cannot put into print.
Then, I turned to Facebook, where family, friends and complete strangers were there to offer support. Privately, others have reached out in phone calls, text messages and e-mails, and it has made me re-evaluate the nature of what a life actually is.
Because, at the end of the day, what has actually changed? I still have my family, who, I know, would be there for me were I to turn serial killer. I still have my friends who, I know, never judged me by my bank balance. And I still have me who, for all the tears I have shed during the past 24 hours, is still pretty happy with what I see when I look in the mirror, both literally and metaphorically.
Very few people in, say, Paris (where I lived for six years) or New York (where I currently spend a lot of time) owns a property. In the UK, however, ownership of bricks has always been equable with status. I recall a taxi driver in Cardiff dropping me off at my house (soon to be the property of CSN – did I mention that?) and commenting “You must have married well”. I was very proud to tell him that everything I had was as a result of me alone.
The downside of that aloneness is that you have to live the bad times by yourself, too. But that’s where social networking comes in. Within the space of a day, I have gone from being a wreck to feeling that I am about to embark on a whole new chapter; I am shedding skins. I will not be defined by the weight of a mortgage that, if I am honest, was running me, not the other way around.
Close friends have been worried for some time about the effect that financial stress has been having on my life. They have seen me constantly disappointed when people who appeared to be offering a lifeline in terms of work let me down. They have seen me try everything to get back on track – even moving continents. They have seen me exhausted and, some weeks, have no money for food (last week’s toilet roll famine was especially bad).

But I am resilient. I still have my writing ability. I still have my family and friends. I just won’t have the bricks and mortar in which to entertain them anymore. 

I await your Christmas invitations.

And if you could all buy my book, Broke: A Life of Small Change, when I put it on Amazon, that would help enormously.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Only the Lonely

I have been lonely all my life. 

I was writing that to a friend of 30 years standing the other night and found myself weeping uncontrollably.
Loneliness is not depression. I have had my fair share of the latter and written about it extensively. Depression is an illness that is out of one’s control. Yes, you can have therapy, you can take drugs to try to control it, but, at the end of the day, the despair that is the heart of the sickness is a beast that chooses you. Any time. Any place. You don’t get to decide when it is going to be unleashed.
But loneliness. That’s different.
Let me say at the outset that I have a wonderful family and a ton load of amazing friends, many of whom I know are there for me 24/7. Some of those friends have known me for 30 plus years, and, in the case of my closest school friends, 40 plus. I am truly blessed in my relationships.
This isn’t a great place to be right now, though. Mid-fifties, single, female, pretty much broke, and always feeling on the periphery of everyone else’s circle. Everyone has a partner, children, grand children, dogs, and there are days when life feels like a conspiracy of togetherness holding up a NO ENTRY sign to you alone.
Aloneness is something I have chosen. I have a solitary job, am totally at ease in my own company, and love the freedom that not being married or being a parent brings. I am extremely close to my friends’ children, who, I am sure, would soon go off me if I were their real parent. They would soon see that what they currently regard as the epitome of cool and the “I wish Jaci was my mother” syndrome would transform in an instant into “I didn’t ask to be born!” reaction in response to my “What time d’you call this?!” if they had sprung from my loins.
Loneliness is different, though, and, it might be a cliché, but you can be lonely in a relationship, too; given the choice, I would rather be single and lonely than married and lonely.
Something happened this week that suddenly made the pain of loneliness so tangible, I just wanted to try to define what it is. It feels self-indulgent to do so, because, after all, it’s not a life-threatening illness, and people go through far worse. But, as a society, we are not good at recognising emotional pain, which is why, when people commit suicide, so many remain baffled as to what could have been the reasons behind it.
I have written elsewhere in my blogs about that kind of despair, but loneliness is harder to categorise. When I was in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), my therapist (Martin Weaver – check him out, he’s great) noted my physical movements when I was describing emotional pain. So, this week, I watched it. Loneliness, for me, is two clenched hands pressed against a tide of sadness in my chest. But maybe that’s every kind of sadness. It’s the heart. And the heart is the spring of everything. Good and bad.
This has been a bad week. I don’t want to go into detail, but this is the lowest. It really is. And it’s only Tuesday. Blake Snyder, whose screenwriting book Save the Cat, first brought me to the US, would call it the “All Is Lost” moment on page 75 of a screenplay, followed by “Dark Night of the Soul”. But, ten pages later, there’s the “Break Into Three” – the solution. Oh, Blake. I miss you so much. But you’re still there. Talking me through the loneliness.
I don’t have a solution to anything I’m going through at the moment, but I am blessed in my friends who get me through the darkness and who, despite their busy lives, are there for me. 

Someday soon, I hope I’ll break into Act Three. 

Synthesis. I’ll get there, Blake. 

I just might have to re-visit Act Two to sort it all out.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Going, Going, Gone Girl - I Hope

Before this week, the last film I saw in a large public cinema (or movie theater as I am now wont to call it – and yes, spelt that way, too; I am SO American these days) was The Hangover (the first one) in Century City in LA.
I bought the biggest burger and drink from the enormous Food Court and relaxed in a seat that was the size of my apartment’s living room.
I then laughed non-stop for the whole movie, as did everyone else. I could not remember a time I had laughed quite so much (well, not unless I counted reading my own columns, anyway). For days afterwards, I was still laughing.
Although, as a member of BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), I receive all movies free for voting purposes, I decided this week to go to the real thing once more. The hype surrounding Girl Gone had been huge, as were the opening weekend sales, and, having loved director David Fincher’s The Social Network, was prepared to be massively impressed.
Just as I did in The Hangover, I cried throughout: not tears of joy, however, but tears of boredom. And then tears of fear – had I been kidnapped and was I being held against my will and, as in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, being subjected to something I would never be able to escape? In Waugh, the victim is the character Tony being held by a Mr Todd, who forces him to read Dickens to him – FOR EVER! In Gone Girl, it is . . . well, what is it? I’ll come to that shortly, but let’s say that my third batch of tears were ones of joy as I finally escaped the darkness, both literally and metaphorically and emerged into the light outside the Lowes movie theatre. 

Never has real life looked or felt so good. I went to Whole Foods and spent half an hour working out what I could have bought there for the $15 I had just wasted at the movies (only three things, as it happened, but still preferable).
For those who have yet to see Gone Girl (and who, heaven forbid, will still want to after reading this?), and who haven’t read the book, I won’t reveal the essentials, but will talk in generalities.
Leaving aside my feeling that Ben Affleck in one of the leads, Nick, is about as underwhelming (to me) as a frozen kipper, it’s a mess of a movie. Rosamund Pike, the other lead, Amy (no fish comparisons intended, by the way), is very good, but it’s impossible to empathise with either character, and if you don’t know who you’re rooting for in a movie, for me it’s over before it’s begun.
The catalyst of the movie, the moment that changes everything and leads it in a different direction, is even more underwhelming than Mr Affleck. It should be a real “WOW! I didn’t see that coming” movie moment, but I’ve had more excitement brushing my teeth, to be honest.
Then there is the issue of Ms Pike’s weight gain within minutes; the cat that never gets fed (yet never loses weight); the reactions of all the key characters to the central plot i.e. the girl that is gone (although, hardly a girl, quite frankly).
The police at the heart of the operation are hopeless; the Sesame Street Cops would have delved more deeply into the evidence. There is way too much repetition, during which we receive the same information, either visually or verbally several times over. The ending is incomprehensible on one essential fact that is supposed to be the other WOW! moment that winds the whole thing up after a staggering 149 minutes. There is not a jot of it that is remotely believable – neither was E.T. literally, but I believed it emotionally – either in terms of plot, characters, or human behaviour. It’s tosh for the masses.
It is as if they changed directors (and, at times, writers) every 15 minutes, never quite getting to grips with what kind of movie they wanted it to be (apart from one that made a lot of money by pulling the wool over the general public’s eyes). The hype surrounding it really is a case of Emperor’s new clothes, and its popularity can only be down to the problem of there being so little out there at the moment – and, in Hollywood, there hasn’t been for some time (though I absolutely LOVED The Hundred-Foot Journey, which I saw in a small private cinema). 

Critics who try to analyse Gone Girl in terms of its post modernism and insight into coupledom are, quite frankly, too fearful of shouting out “The King is in the all together!”

   Ms Pike will doubtless receive an Oscar nomination, and the film will make it onto the Best Adapted Screenplay list; but Best Movie? Dear lord, I hope not.
It is, alas, 149 minutes I will never get back. Gone Girl? 

Going, going, gone girl - forever, I hope.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

50 Things NOT to Do After 50

DON’T . . .

1.       Regret anything. You’re too damned late and you’ll be dead before you get the chance to put it all right.
2.       Queue, unless you can blag your way to the front. Anything you want to see is on the telly or in a book.
3.       Try to understand men. Stop. You never will. They aren’t just from Mars; they are from another solar system yet to be discovered by real humans.
4.       Get your tits out for the lads. You should have stopped doing that 20, or even 30, years ago. No one wants to see them.
5.       Believe in God. He ain’t there.
6.       Drink and text. You can’t hold your alcohol as well as you used to, and you have never got to grips with your iPhone touchpad screen.
7.       Run up an escalator that is going downwards. You won’t make it. Trust me on this one #paramedicsalert.
8.       Get in touch with exes on social networking. They really have moved on. You should, too.
9.       Take up ice-skating. Are you nuts?
10.    Tell the doctor how many units of alcohol you drink. They really do know that 13 means 30 (plus).
11.    Tell anyone that William Hartnell was the best ever Dr Who.
12.    Sleep on the sofa because you can’t be arsed to walk 10 feet to the bedroom.
13.    Mistake the hallway white table for the toilet in the middle of the night . . . Just me, then?
14.    Think that topping yourself is the answer to everything. You’ll never find out whether it really was.
15.    Lose touch with your oldest friends. They’ve stuck with you this long, so you can’t be all bad.
16.    Talk to yourself on the street. Nobody likes a loony.
17.    Think you will ever be rich. You won’t. You have left it way too late.
18.    Have Botox. You will look like a pastry case with no filling and people will wonder why you are smiling when they tell you their entire family have been killed in a plane crash.
19.    Buy a dog. It could well outlive you and probably have to be put down once it has paid its respects by urinating on your grave.
20.    Get married – unless there is loads of money, loads of sex, or a Green Card in it for you.
21.    Take advice from people. They are only ever talking about themselves.
22.    Think that life was so much better when you were poorer. At least you get to cry over a glass of champagne now, rather than tap water.
23.    Wear a bikini. You will just look like an underdressed tree trunk.
24.    Think you can make someone fall in love with you. They will or they won’t. It’s that simple. And that complicated.
25.    Start looking up every ache and pain on Google, or you will think you have 5 minutes to live.
26.    Check the gray in your pubic hair. It will really depress you.
27.    Check the gray in any lover’s pubic hair; that will depress you even more.
28.    Believe a 20-something year old when they say they are attracted to your maturity. For “maturity”, read “no strings-attached leg-over”.
29.    Go platinum blonde in an effort to look younger. You will only end up looking like Myra Hindley’s less attractive sister.
30.    Contemplate any relationship with a man unless he is one who will put out the garbage.
31.    Accept lifts from strangers. You never learned that one, did you?
32.    Try to win a goldfish or coconut at the fairground. You never did during the first five decades of your life, so what makes you think your luck is going to change now?
33.    Buy a gun. You will only end up using it and end up in a box six feet under, or on Death Row.
34.    Say that you aren’t going to cry the next time you watch ET. You will. Keep a very large bucket by you at all times.
35.    Watch Titanic. Life really is too short for that. And you know the ending anyway. It sinks. See? I’ve saved you the trouble already.
36.    Believe anything anyone ever tells you about penises. Especially men. And lesbians.
37.    Believe a pilot when he says you are experiencing “a bit of turbulence”. You are closer to death than you know.
38.    Cry yourself to sleep. Come sunrise, your face will look as if it is nursing two baked potatoes under your eyes.
39.    Ever try to help the police with their enquiries. You’re a suspect.
40.    Start watching the Law and Order SVU marathon – because it never stops, and life as you know it will be over forever.
41.    Say the C word in the USA, or, if you speak Russian, the P word. “Prick”, however, is apparently perfectly acceptable.
42.    Breast-feed in public. Especially if you don’t have a baby.
43.    Start wondering if you are gay because you’ve never been married. You opted quite early on which side of the Penis vs the Furry Cup argument you were on, and there has been little evidence to prove you were wrong.
44.    Give up your seat to anyone on public transport, no matter how old, pregnant or infirm they are. You’ve been through shit, too; you’ve earned your spot.
45.    Try to rescue anyone appearing to be in trouble in the sea. They are waving, not drowning. You, however, will drown.
46.    Keep checking your phone. He hasn’t called. Never will.
47.    Think too much. It’s never got you anywhere.
48.    Lend anyone money. Borrow to your heart’s content, but don’t lend.
49.    Get into debt. Oh, too late.
50.    Start making lists of how your life has changed since hitting 50.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Keeping the Wolf from the Door

Law and Order: SVU. 

I swear that for every one I watch, they have made another six by the time the credits roll. How else would it be possible, every time I turn on my TV, to see yet another SVU marathon and so many episodes that I haven’t seen before?
Last night, I watched the second episode of series 16, which began last week. My DVR hadn’t recorded episode one because Verizon screwed up. I couldn’t watch it On Demand because Verizon screwed up again.
Verizon are ruining my life. I talk to them more often than I talk to my mother. Well, I say “talk”. The only people who appear to be contactable there are the social networking team on Twitter, and they really are very good indeed. The problem is that the people they pass the messages on to are the very people who don’t pick up the phone when you try to reach them by conventional methods. And so you go back to Twitter to name and shame the company into taking action.
I was perfectly happy with Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles, but when I moved to New York, I was assured Verizon were the best. Super-duper high speed internet, the ability to record 12 programmes at a time, 200 hours of storage space of HD on the DVR, and 1000 in SD.
To cut a long story short, it’s the slowest internet (and I am on 150/150 for all you techies out there) I have ever had, and my DVR has been swallowing SVU at a faster rate than I can watch it.
It turned out that I had been given the super-duper internet speed (that isn’t), but the bog standard, two programmes at a time, DVR recorders. This, I discovered only when the first episode of SVU clashed with another two recordings, and so never appeared. I turned to On Demand, where, in SD and HD, it was scrambled. Finally, a human has addressed this, but it means losing my collection of stored Judge Alex programmes forever, as the show is no longer on the air. See what I mean, Verizon? RUINING my life!
But back to SVU. I get very confused, because Danny Pino, who has one of the most beautiful mouths in television, is also on old episodes of Cold Case, which is my other addiction. I know he is called Nick in one or the other, but have no idea which, because every time he comes on screen, I just stare at those gorgeous lips (and he doesn’t look like a Nick, anyway. He looks like a . . . well, a Danny, which is just as well). And eyes. He really is incredibly gorgeous. I quite fancy the overweight one, too (I think he’s Cold Case, but don’t take my word on that), who is sexy in a Tony Soprano kind of way.
My real love, though, is Mariska Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson in SVU. Now, when I say “love”, I don’t mean it in a “Let’s go on holiday to the island of Lesbos, Mariska” kind of way; I just find her performance utterly compelling and one to which I have become addicted. Hargitay is not only a charismatic, sensitive actor, who knows that less is always more, she possesses a quality that you can’t really pin down, but which I will categorise as the Comfort Blanket Factor.
Every day, when I skip through the “Guide” when I have exhausted the DVR, I will always tune in if SVU is on. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, and much as I say “Right, it’s my last one”, they put that Law and Order logo and voiceover “In the criminal justice system” up so darn quick, I am hooked again before I get even a finger to the remote to change channels. It’s my comfort blanket and I really, really don’t like it when it’s not on.
Dick Wolf, whose name appears at the end of all the Law and Order episodes, is the master of addictive television. I had the privilege of meeting him at a forum in London when the UK version was being made, and he appeared on stage with his leg in plaster. Apparently, he had been for a pedicure and his foot had become infected. It wouldn’t have made a whole episode, but there was something mildly amusing in the knowledge that he has all that genius and money and can’t find a pedicurist who doesn’t have delusions of amputeeism.
Anyway, I watched episode two of this season’s SVU, which was, by accident, incredibly topical, as it involved a sports personality being accused of something he may or may not have done (although that is always a hot topic in the US, as far as I can see). Sex, race, loyalty, truth, justice – all the big themes were there, as they invariably are in the Dick Wolf box of magical tricks. 

I just have to find a way to wean myself off SVU, if only for a day, as I am now an SV of the show itself.
In the meantime, Mariska and Danny, I really do love you both. But I still need some broadcasting methadone to get me off the SVU hard stuff. 

My real life is over unless I find a means to keep Dick Wolf out of my living room.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fifty Ways to Beat Your Lover

Every TV network in the US last week devoted time to the NFL (National Football League) player, Ray Rice, who, a few months back, knocked his wife unconscious in an elevator. The incident was caught on CCTV, and the NFL has just suspended the player indefinitely (the initial punishment was a two game suspension).
Debate has raged over who should be punished the most: the player, the NFL, or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who, it seems, knew about the severity of the attack (from Rice himself), despite initially claiming relative ignorance.
The stark and terrifying high numbers of abuse victims, not only in the US, is appalling; but what is most disturbing is the number of women who don’t stand up to the domestic violence horror that it undoubtedly is. TV interviews with women wearing Rice’s number 27 shirt revealed a “He’s a good bloke who just made one mistake” mentality, with many claiming that what happens behind closed doors between a husband and wife should stay there.
These interviews appeared to be with not very bright women, blinded by the celebrity status of Rice. But there are many intelligent women propagating abuse who seem oblivious to the fact that they are doing so.
Take Fifty Shades of Grey, a book published and heavily publicised by Random House, run by a woman (Gail Rebuck). It is written by E L James, a woman. I have met them both and know them to be smart cookies. The book, however (I confess to having read only the first volume – that was enough), is not an entertaining romp; it is nothing less than a celebration of abuse heaped by a man upon a woman – and, moreover, abuse she contractually signs up for. Instead of thinking “What a weirdo”, she is turned on by the desires of this handsome, single man, and has relatively few qualms about being his piece of beaten up meat. She is, in essence, gagging for it – and not in a good way.
The book raced up the best-seller lists, attracting a huge female readership; there is a movie in the making – written by a woman (Kelly Marcel) and directed by a woman (Sam Taylor Johnson). Everyone is making a ton load of money from their efforts and everyone is ecstatic over the books’ success (a trilogy). I have no interest in whether the hero, Christian Grey, sees the error of his ways at the end of volume three (I have no idea if he does); what I care about is that Anastasia Steele is an abuse victim whose story tells women everywhere that abuse is a turn on; pain is good; men call the shots. Shame on all you professional women involved with this.
Did any of you take a moment to consider the irresponsibility of the message you are putting out there? Listen, I know that many people are into sado-masochism and that many men and women get off on pain. There are also many violent books out there, material that gets published on a weekly basis that is deeply disturbing. Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho was one of them; but that book was nowhere near as reprehensible as Fifty Shades, as it never suggested that any of the psycho’s victims got any degree of pleasure from the truly horrific ways they were killed. Indeed, the most sickening slow death was cut when the book was turned into a movie.
When women join other women to promote the idea that a woman enjoys violence on the scale of Fifty Shades, I seriously worry for our society. It makes them no better than the interviewees discussing Ray Rice; they, too, are in collusion with the side of society that turns a blind eye to one of the most important and unaddressed issues of our times.
I have been lucky with the men I have been involved one. Only once did a boyfriend push me around on the street; luckily, someone was there and instantly came to my aid. It heralded the end of the relationship, but not because I instigated it. He had been unfaithful, and it was my knowledge of the affair that ultimately brought things to an end.
Would I have kept seeing him, following that incident? Would his aggression have escalated? I have no way of knowing; but I know that my feelings for him overwhelmed any logical thought as to what he was actually doing or where it was going.
Ray Rice’s wife, Janay, is standing by her man because she loves him. It’s the main reason women who leave abusive men always go back (financial is another); the reason they forgive; and the reason they get beaten up again and again, and often get killed in the process – thousands upon thousands every year in the UK, and a heck of a lot more in the US, where it is claimed one in three women suffers abuse from their partners.
Men need to be punished for their violence; but women also need to get a grip and stop telling men that it’s okay for them to behave like this. Any woman who goes to see the movie Fifty Shades is financing abuse and putting another tick in the box that says it is all right for the abuse to continue, because, guess what: we love it, really.
I mean, REALLY?

I repeat: shame on you all.